Mayor considering making fabric stores ‘essential’ as sales move online

Fabric merchants move to online sales, but may become 'essential'

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the city is looking at options to allow people to continue making cloth masks. And that could lead to fabric merchants being classified as “essential” under the city’s stay-at-home order.

People who wanted to make masks formed long lines outside stores like Fabric Mart after the mayor strongly recommended that masks should be worn in public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“There was a line that went from zero to a thousand,” said Peter Kim at the Aiea Fabric Mart store. “It went from a 20-minute wait to a three-hour wait. It went as far as a seven-hour wait.”

Those long lines prompted the city to rule that fabric stores were not essential, and ordered Fabric Mart to close its doors.

It quickly pivoted to online sales.

“It’s a big shift,” said Fabric Mart’s Angie Lee Kim. “I would say that it was a small percentage of our sales, but now it’s like one hundred percent.”

Online orders have skyrocketed from a maximum of about 50 per day to 300 per day. And that number continues to climb.

On Easter Sunday, a crew was working hard to fulfill those orders -- a yard here, half-a-yard there -- and getting them packed and ready for delivery.

“We have a whole system where we have people printing out the orders, looking for the fabric, cutting the fabric,” said Angie Lee Kim. “And then we have another team that’s just focused on making the labels, packing it.”

Caldwell said he ordered the stores closed because he was concerned people weren’t practicing good social distancing when standing in line or in the stores.

But with the high demand for cloth for masks that he recommends, he’s now reconsidering.

“We want to make sure the Kunis, the Kaimuki Dry Goods, Fabric Mart and many others have a chance to sell fabric to the residents of Oahu so they can make masks, but in a way that’s safe and practices good social distancing,” Caldwell said.

The mayor said there could be a supplemental order as soon as Monday that will allow some form of shopping for people to get fabric to make masks.

One of the options he’d favor is to have people call in or go online to make their orders, pay online, and then drive up and have the order brought to their car at curbside.

That’s an option Fabric Mart is working on for its Aiea store.

But in the meantime, there are several boxes of fabric that have to be brought to the post office Monday.

“You know, I might be the guy just because I still have some energy," said Peter Kim, with a laugh. "So I might be like carrying all the boxes and shipping them out to our guests.”

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